For chronic truants, a GPS program can help them make the grade
Where curfews and fines have failed, Anaheim officials say GPS devices help keep students in class.
By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
February 25, 2011
Ryan Ramos' 6 a.m. routine used to consist of the usual: a shower, breakfast, then a walk to the bus stop. But now, the 14-year-old eighth-grader has another activity: punching an identification code into a cell phone-size GPS device.
Five times a day — when he wakes up, when he gets to school, after lunch, after school and at 8 p.m. — Ramos is required to enter his code into the machine. If he's not where he's supposed to be, the GPS provides a way to find him.
Ramos and 31 other students in the Anaheim Union High School District are participating voluntarily in what some consider a cutting-edge solution to the age-old problem of truancy. Backers of the program hope that by giving parents and school officials a better idea of where students are — and by giving students a visible incentive to resist peer pressure to skip classes — the GPS can succeed where curfews, strict punishments and even fines for parents have failed.
The concept has critics who object to the Big Brother aspects of satellite monitoring.
"It's a criminalization of kids who have trouble getting to class every day," said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, who likened the program to the restrictions placed on probationers or those under house arrest.
But the idea also has believers. Although Anaheim is the first district in California to try the idea, cities elsewhere in the country, including San Antonio and Baltimore, have used GPS to chart the movements of chronic truants and say they have experienced considerable success.